Geographic: The Eternal Answers

Erwer, Urim 23, 00100

Christiane Sutpratthana leaned back in her chair with a mug in her hands and her planner in her lap. Three days into the voyage of a lifetime and already she had become stuck with a quandary. Her planner was her way of keeping her life in order; it had traveled with her through all seven continents of the Earth and had never failed her. Now, however, it had become a source of confusion as she realized that the dates on its pages held little meaning. Days were a phenomenon of a spinning world; years of an orbiting one. Neither had any meaning on this starship, especially not when the entire crew of the ship held to a different clock and a different calendar. She turned the planner over and admired the Geographic logo she had ironed onto its cloth front. She had worked hard to acquire that logo and the associated benefits that went with it. And now a career of capturing all manner of humanity on film had been rewarded with this trip, this ultimate voyage of discovery.

Around the rim of the logo was the motto, “To explore, to map, and to photograph the world.” She was going to be the first to photograph another world. True, Geographic had run photos taken by NASA satellites, but this time the photographs would be up close, and personal.

She missed her cigarettes. She had kicked the habit six years ago, shortly after her diagnosis with lung cancer. She had been lucky; the cancer had been small and well-contained, and with surgery she made a full recovery. She had had moments, especially in the past couple of weeks, where the craving had hit her. This one was particularly bad, but given that so far from Earth that it would take light years to get from there to here, she would survive without them.

A knock at the door startled her and she looked up. “Come in?”

The door opened. She had been expecting Trellin, the Tindal who had been assigned to her as an adjunct and guide. Instead, one who had overnight become the most recognizable human now living, Ken Shardik, stood there. “Do you mind company?”

She recovered quickly. “No, not at all.” She closed the planner and placed it on the table.

Her visitor took a seat around the tiny table crammed into the corner of her cabin. He touched her planner briefly, his fingers tracing the edges of the patch. “I wanted to come by and see how you and the rest of your peers are doing, Ms. Sutpratthana. And I wanted to apologize for my theatrics two days ago. I realize that I can be insufferable at times. My people are willing to slap me around a little when I become insufferable but I expect Terrans would be a little more timid.

“Would you like me to be less timid?” she asked.

“I would,” he agreed.

She smiled. “I accept your apology.”

“Good. So,” he continued, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

She thought for a moment. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I would like an opportunity to talk further, if you would like that.”

“I would. I’m free now.”

She opened her planner and found a blank page in the back. “There’s a great secret surrounding Pendor. One concerning the geography itself. Your collection of maps is entirely about Earth; there’s not one reference in it to Pendorian maps, cities, towns, or anything like that. In some other documents there’s mention of an Arc or a Ring, and a mention of ‘the first shadow of night.’ That appears so often I don’t think it’s poetic metaphor. Is Pendor really a world?”

She saw a look of surprise cross Ken’s face, followed by a slow smile. “You’ve been doing your homework. Yes, Pendor is a world. It’s at least as big as Earth. And there are some oddities with the geography. We want to keep some of that a secret until we reached Pendor. I’m feeling a flair for the dramatic. I’m sure in the first few days you’re there you’ll be able to find more than enough to keep yourselves busy for the entire year.”

“It’s at least as big as Earth,” she repeated. “Is it any bigger?”

The grin grew large. “Probably.”

“You won’t tell me any more?”

“No,” he said. “It’s not in my nature to give away all my secrets.”

She wrote that down in her book. “Do you have any children of your own?” she asked suddenly.

“Um, No. My partner and I do not have any children. I don’t intend on having any children of my own genes at any time. The Pendorians are my children.”

“Your partner? I was under the impression that Pendorians don’t marry.”

“Define ‘marry’ and come up with a universal definition. I’ve lived with the same fem for some twenty years now and we’ve been very happy together. We’re not the same species nor are we particularly monogamous. We just find that living together is very comfortable for us. I love her and she loves me.”

“But you’re not monogamous?”

“I find it interesting that I mentioned that I was living with someone who is not a human being, but you choose to focus on my lack of monogamy. Anyway, no; monogamy doesn’t make much sense to me. I know monogamous people on Pendor but not many. Most of them engage in serial monogamy; lifetime monogamy is as rare as the unicorn on Pendor.”

“Why is that?”

Ken smiled. “We’re immortal.”

Christiane almost dropped her pen. “You’re what?”

“Functionally unaging. Barring exceptional gross trauma or willful self-destruction, I will live as long as I choose. The first few generations of Pendorians were a little more fragile than we are now, but some serious medical improvements in the past thirty years have granted us a lease on real immortality.”

“How old are you, really?” she asked.

“A hundred and thirty-two years old.”

“And you’ll never die.”

“Oh, I imagine I might someday,” he said. “Probability will catch up with me. That’s one of the reasons why Pendorians have such low fertility rates; they have to match the rate of willful or accidental self-destruction, which at this point is actually quite low.”

“But it does happen?” she asked.

“Of course. I would never stand between someone and their decision to move on.” His smile looked forced and uncomfortable. “That’s our euphemism for suicide.”

“I see.” She sighed.

“This is making you uncomfortable,” Ken observed.

She nodded. “You too. It’s a bit of a bombshell. The differences between Earth people and your people will become much more pronounced as time goes on.”

“Your people are within a century of discovering the secret, Christiane. It’s really quite a simple secret, although the technology to implement it is quite extensive.”

She tried to think of what to ask next and came up blank. “I can’t think of anything else to ask suddenly.”

“I’m sure you will eventually,” he said. “Anyway, I’ll leave you to your notes. By the way, if you’d like your calendar to be printed with Pendorian dates, just ask Jamie and she’ll have some printed up for you when you get to Pendor. On board, I’m afraid you’ll have to use the computer for it. We don’t carry much paper with us.”

She looked up at him. “Thank you, Shardik.”

“You’re welcome.”


She was still sitting there, trying to come to grips with that one great secret Ken had told her when she was again interrupted by a knock at the door. “Come in?”

This time, Trellin came in. “I wanted to see how you were getting along.”

“Are you really immortal, Trellin?” Christiane asked suddenly.

Trellin stopped. “He told you.” Christiane nodded. “Yes, I am. I don’t intend to live forever. Maybe two hundred years. I’m already over forty and I can’t see wanting to go on for too long.”

Christiane found herself envying this fem who had those kinds of choices. She had been trying for the past forty minutes trying to get the idea out of her head when she realized that there was no solution for it but to accept it.

She made a note, then looked up at Trellin with a smile that stretched from ear to ear.

“What?” Trellin asked.

“I just had an insight into your people that I didn’t expect.” Christiane closed her notebook and zipped it shut.

“Oh,” Trellin replied. “Was it a good one?”

Christine nodded. “An important one.”

“Then I want you to tell me about it. Later. Right now, I wanted to ask you if you had made any choices regarding an on-board exercise regimen. While it’s not compulsory it really is good for you.”

Christiane sighed. “I’m sure it is. What do you have on board?”

Trellin looked up at the ceiling with an expression Christiane read as clearly exasperated. She knew Trellin had listed the options before; she had merely forgotten them all. “We have two jogging tracks, only one of which is open right now. We have a very large swimming pool. You don’t even have to do laps; just spend an hour treading water if you must. We have a weight room with a wide variety of equipment, wider now that we’ve been to Earth, although some of it looks more like torture equipment. There are even water polo and water volleyball games. There are organized exercise regimens. We would like to have a martial arts instructor on board but, unfortunately, they’re both on Terra studying under Terran masters who probably have a lot to teach them. And a lot to learn from them.”

Christiane looked up at her guide with a smile. “I don’t have a swim suit.”

“What’s that?” Trellin asked, surprised. “A suit for swimming in? The pool isn’t that cold. It should be around 30.”

Christiane found herself thinking she’d been living in the United States too long. Raised in eastern France, she had never thought of swimsuits as a necessity before moving to the States. She smiled. “Let’s head to the pool.”

Trellin nodded as Christiane rose. “What’s a swim suit?” she insisted.

“Modesty suit.”

“Oh,” Trellin responded. “Silly humans.”

“Silly Pendorians,” Christiane mocked back in a ritual built in only a few days of knowing one another. She liked Trellin immensely. “Show me this swimming pool.”

The swimming pool took Christiane by surprise. “It’s big.” It was far larger than those she had seen on luxury cruise liners back on Earth. It seemed a lot of water for such a small ship. “Why?”

“Dolphins use it,” Trellin said, pointing into the water.

Christiane noticed two dolphins racing back and forth inside the pool. Another surprise were the two apparently young children playing near one end, a guardian clearly of a different species watching them closely. “There are children on board?”

“Yes,” Trellin replied. “We bring our families.”

“I hadn’t anticipated that. Nobody told us.”

“We didn’t announce it. It didn’t make sense to do so; the parents would make excellent hostages and the children were allowed down to the surface only in secret.”

“They’ve been on this ship all this time?”

Trellin nodded. “They’re the only ones on this ship. I imagine it has been hard for them but children are quite adaptable. I’m confident they aren’t harmed by this experience.”

“Where do I put my clothes?”

“There are stations over there ” Trellin pointed to a collection of cubby holes “And there are towels there. Just drop them in that hamper and someone will bring them in to be washed.”

Five minutes later Christiane stood naked at the edge of the pool and wondered if she really looked as awkward as she felt. Most of the crew around her were both young and beautiful. She should have known to expect that by now. Knowing that they never grew old, that they had far superior medical technology on their side, and that these, at any rate, were professional military personnel, exemplars of their individual races, she should have expected them all to be beautiful. She didn’t even know what age would look like on some of the feline species; at any age, cats tended to have a grace all their own. She, on the other hand, had 40 years of Earth’s gravity dragging down at her body; even having a small chest hadn’t saved her from the visible effects of sag. She slipped under the water and hoped nobody looked too closely.

Wanting to be invisible was unusual for her; she had never been afraid of being the center of attention before. It was only amongst this amazing array of furred and not-so-furred bodies that she felt self-conscious.

A sleek, grey form slid past her in the water and she started. The dolphin turned an easy circle and came back towards her, nose first. She felt a peculiar sensation in her belly. Then a voice, calm and self-assured, spoke to her. “You’re one of those humans from that Geographic magazine, aren’t you?”

She turned and looked to see a small silver ball hovering next to her. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” the voice from the ball said. “I just wanted to look you up close.”

“Who are you?” she asked the ball.

“Me, here. The one in the water. You’re talking to my remote. Which is a bit like bending over to address someone’s left hand.”

She turned to the dolphin. “You?”

“Me. My name is a collection of whistles and clicks, so just call me Bead. Which may not be a very musical chord, now that I think about it.” The dolphin whistled what Christiane took to be a laugh.

“Wow. What do you do on this vessel?”

“Security,” the dolphin replied calmly. “Although most of it consists of telling robots what to do, and not very much of that since I can’t remember us ever having a security problem. But this vessel needs a set of living eyes to look over it and that is my job.”

“I see,” Christiane said, ever more curious. She felt the missing weight of the camera about her neck.

“So you’ve met our venerable Bead.” She saw Kennet Shardik swimming towards her. Like everyone else in the room, he was stark naked. “Heya, Bead.”

The dolphin didn’t respond in English, but instead directly clicked and whistles to him. He nodded. “Sounds like a good idea. Are they?” More whistles and clicks. “Interesting. But not a threat?” More clicks than whistles. “I guess that’ll do for now.” Shardik turned towards her. “Apparently Bead thinks your peers could prove restless and troublesome.”

“I don’t think they’re going to be that much trouble. It’s a long voyage; people get restless,” she said. Unclothed, Shardik was actually something of a handsome young human. Pale skin on his chest, but his arms and legs were very hairy. He wore his hair long although for swimming he had restrained it with the some kind of rubber band.

“True,” he commented. “But you have to appreciate that the idea of staying holed up in a vessel for several months is something that hasn’t been a normal part of the human mindset for decades. I believe only Lisanne has done anything even remotely like it. And there’s the added stress of trusting us.”

Trellin joined them in the water, swimming with a peculiar grace. “Ken!” she said, grabbing him and pulling him down into the water with a hug. When they came up, she kissed him on the cheek.

He sputtered and shook his head to clear the hair from his eyes. “Trellin!” he said. The tone was angry but his eyes smiled. “Do you mind? Not in front of the guests.”

“They’re going to learn you’re a lovely and lascivious old man eventually,” she said.

“Maybe so, but hopefully not today.” He hugged her close, then looked up at Christiane. “I didn’t expect you to find me in the altogether quite so soon.”

“I grew up in a country that didn’t have quite the nudity taboos of the United States, which I understand is your country of origin. Although your command of both English and Japanese is quite impressive, you’re not a native of Japan. And I’ve seen analysis of the slang you use indicating that you were born in the US rather than the UK or an English-speaking province.”

“I see,” he said with a grin. “I hope you don’t expect your experts to have gotten everything down perfectly.”

She returned the grin with a casual expertise. “No. And I won’t pry. It’s not why I’m here.”

“Of course it is.” He turned his head. “The fem I came here with is waving her arms to get my attention. I’ll talk to you later, Christiane.”

She nodded. Trellin remained with her, shaking her head. “He can be quite exasperating.”

“So he said.”


Christiane found herself writing furiously in her notebook that night after dinner. Her realization about Pendorian immortality had her thinking. And something else.

A knock on the door again distracted her. Trellin walked in and smiled at her. “How’s your reporting coming?”

“Quite good,” Christiane replied. “Although I seem to be getting the lion’s share of Ken’s attention. I talked with Jack and Wolf and they hadn’t quite had the privileges Ken has bestowed on me. And that act at the pool– is he really that suggestive to all females?”

“Fems,” Trellin said. “Sometimes. He does seem to like you, though.”

“I see,” Christiane said. Her heart was beating loud in her chest as she decided to admit something. “Trellin, how do I deal with that? I’m not… I’m a lesbian.”

“You are?” Trellin responded. Christiane got the impression from Trellin’s tone that being a lesbian was hardly a big deal but not knowing about it was something of an inconvenience. “Why didn’t you just tell him that the first time he tossed a flirt at you?”

“I didn’t know what to do. You don’t just tell the head of state right out that you’re not interested in bedding him, do you?”

“You do on Pendor,” Trellin replied, somewhat angrily. “Especially in a tight and forcibly intimate situation like the one we have here! Jamie, are you there? Pass that note on to Ken with my signature, would you?”

“Got it,” the AI responded. “And welcome to the sisterhood, Christiane.” There was something like an electronic chuckle from the speaker.

“What does that mean?” Christiane asked.

The AI responded, “It means that as I was maturing through incorporation shock I chose a feminine identity and I seem to get along with other feminine identities better than I do masculine ones. It does not mean that I’m any less functional with mels, I just prefer to have social banter with fems.”

“Oh,” Christiane said. She could imagine the Pendorians being queer but the idea of their computers identifying as gay or straight disturbed her slightly. She had come to accept Jamie as a part of the crew, and even come to accept Jamie’s chosen sexual identity, but that the computer should therefore have a sexual orientation hadn’t occurred to her before. “Do you have sex?”

The computer giggled. It actually giggled, Christiane thought. “That depends on what you mean by ‘have sex.’ I guess I would have to say that I don’t have sex. I just prefer to be in the company of women.”

“Oh.” Christiane swallowed. This was going to take some thinking. She looked up at Trellin, wondering if the confusion was that clear on her face.

Trellin apparently thought it was because she laughed. “Don’t worry, Christiane. You’ll get used to us eventually. You have to realize that even though some of us may look like you, we are not like Terrans at all. We’re a different culture with different behaviors entirely.” She took the seat opposite. “Can I ask you a question, Christiane?”

Christiane was taken aback. She hadn’t expected to be the subject of curiosity on the ship; most of the Pendorians had treated her deferentially. “I– Sure.”

“If you’re a lesbian, are you attracted to me? Before you answer that I have to say something. I’m not asking that because I think all homosexual people are always and only interested in sex. I understand that a lot of people think that way– on Pendor as well as Earth. I’m asking because I’m finding myself interested in you.”

Christiane looked at Trellin’s face, trying to understand those uncompromising green eyes that stared back at her, so disturbing without pupil or iris to mark where Trellin was looking. Although her face was covered in a light-blue fur and topped with a black nose, it was still a face Christiane could read. And she saw both concern and worry there. She reached out with one hand and took Trellin’s. “Is this called a hand or a mitten?”

“Either,” Trellin said, looking down at the long, darkly-colored fingers surrounding her mitten.

“I think I like you, Trellin. I can’t say I’m wholly attracted to you but I’m intensely curious about you, and for a photojournalist like myself that can be an exciting feeling all its own.”

“So ” Trellin pulled Christiane’s hand close to her lips and kissed Christiane’s hand softly. “Is this okay?”

“Trellin, what will happen if your people find out you’re trying to seduce me?”

“Probably nothing, unless my feelings for you or your feelings for me get in the way of your doing the task you came to Pendor to accomplish.”

“Is that all? No hints of impropriety?”

“Making my charge happy is the most proper thing in the world,” Trellin said with a voice matter-of-fact. “If you want, I can drop it and forget about it and we can do our jobs efficiently. You aren’t going to Pendor to have sex after all.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t make friends with the natives,” Christiane said. “What– what would it be like?”

“You’ll have to find out for yourself,” Trellin said with a grin. “We’re physically compatible, if you’re curious.”

“I think I knew that already.” Christiane grinned as she said it. “Even physically. Come here.”

Trellin stood up and walked around the table, standing before her. Christiane took her mitten and pulled her down into her lap. Trellin sat with a smile. Christiane lifted one hand to the Tindal’s face and guided their mouths together.

To Christiane, Trellin kissed like she’d been born to do nothing else. She’s always had trouble finding lovers who kissed well, but Trellin understood what she wanted a second after contact. Mouths partially opened, lips caressing lips and tongues wetting tongues, Christiane held her breath long enough that she felt dizzy when they parted. As she gasped to take in air, she rubbed her cheeks, humming with thoughts. “Your fur, it tickles me. A little. And it itches.”

“That is a common problem with humans and furries. Or even with just two furries. Rubbing fur the wrong way.” Trellin smiled. She leaned over and kissed Christiane again.

This time the kiss was more frenetic, more intense. Christiane felt like she finally knew what she was doing here, at least in the small little room with this curiously wonderful woman in her arms. She had known many lovers over the years and the assignments; from India, Africa, and of course America, as well as many other places, she had taken many beloveds and many of them she still called friends. They had come in all shapes and sizes. But none of them had ever had fur. She wondered if she should perhaps consider her act bestial.

But the kisses raining down on her from Trellin’s mouth distracted her from such thoughts and she found herself responding in old familiar ways. She nibbled on the curve of Trellin’s chin; Trellin kissed her cheeks, her nose, her forehead. “You have beautiful hair, Christiane.”

“Your people have good shampoos.”

Trellin giggled. “We had better.”

“I can see that,” Christiane murmured. She pulled Trellin close, allowed herself to inhale the warming scent of Trellin’s fur. There was no artificiality about it, not a hint of the kinds of scents used in shampoos or soaps. Trellin’s scent was all her own and Christiane found it fascinating. She bravely slid one hand up between Trellin’s legs, and the Tindal squirmed under Christiane’s probing. “If you’re going to do that,” Trellin sighed, “We should move to the bed.”

“Then let’s do that,” Christiane agreed softly.

Trellin rose and led Christiane the short distance to the bed. Christiane wondered if it was large enough for the two of them, but she’d made love in smaller spaces and in crazier places. Well, she had made love in places where both she and her lover could have been killed for holding hands, but she doubted any place could be crazier than aboard a starship in the middle of a trip so many millions of kilometers long.

Christiane sat down on the bed but Trellin remained standing. She shook her way out of her jumpsuit with a single shrug and stood before Christiane without a word.

Christiane found herself wondering what she was looking for. Without a doubt Trellin was both very feminine and very alien. She had wide hips and a bit of a belly; her shoulders looked strong but from them hung two tentacles that sometimes reminded Christiane chillingly of snakes, especially in the way they moved. She had a short neck, large ears, and right now a very wide grin. “What do you think?”

“I think I’m in for the experience of a lifetime,” Christiane replied. “Come here.”

The naked Trellin sat down again in Christiane’s lap, but this time Christiane had a chance to run her fingers along her lover’s naked and furred back. Trellin seemed to purr slightly as she ran her fingers down her spine, finding familiar shapes hidden beneath all that fur. Her lips poised to kiss Christiane’s and they both welcomed the renewed kisses and touches of the evening. “I want you,” Trellin said softly.

“For how long?”

“Tonight,” Trellin said. “Tomorrow we’ll review.”

“That sounds right,” Christiane agreed. She shifted her weight slightly and allowed Trellin to fall down onto the bed on her back. She stood up herself and removed her own clothing. She had taken a ship’s pants and jacket, wondering how Trellin dealt with the task of removing the entire jumpsuit to use the toilet. That was the one thing about those jumpsuits that she thought would drive her crazy.

She got into bed next to the naked Tindal. “So, are there any real differences between us?”

“Not really,” Trellin asked. “I have a lot more fur, maybe.”

“There is no maybe about that,” Christiane chuckled. “But what else do you have?” She ran her fingers up Trellin’s leg, against the lie of the other fem’s fur, upwards to that sacred spot between Trellin’s legs. She hoped that Trellin had been telling the truth, that there were no differences. As she got closer, her hand became warmer as she could feel the heat coming off Trellin’s vulva. Trellin seemed to hold her breath; Christiane was determined to get it out of the other fem and kissed her hard. Trellin gasped as Christiane’s hand cupped her sex; she parted her legs to give Christiane the reach she wanted. Christiane felt the soft lie of fine fur and the moisture of a woman in heat. Whatever differences there were between them, that was not going to be any different. Trellin’s body squirmed against her own; the fur tickled at the edges where their bodies met but otherwise she could find only the wonderful thrust of an experienced lover pushing back at her. The muscles between Trellin’s thighs tensed repeatedly as Christiane massaged her mound. She eased one finger between the swollen lips of Trellin’s vulva and found both familiar wetness and familiar shapes. She slowly eased her hand away from the blue-furred fem’s body and lifted it to her own lips.

Trellin gasped. “What do you think?”

“You’re very beautiful,” Christiane said. Her hand strayed downwards again, this time hovering over Trellin’s breasts. Christiane found them very soft and for some reason the texture of Trellin’s breasts made her smile. She leaned over and kissed those breasts, feeling the fur on her lips, finding one of Trellin’s nipple through it and nipping it. Trellin moaned.

Christiane parted Trellin’s legs just a little more, enough to get between them fully. She found Trellin’s vulva looked very familiar; the flesh was pink and fully flushed; her pubic hair was little different from the fur on her breasts and belly; perhaps it was a little thicker but also finer.

She kissed Trellin’s mound and Trellin pulled her knees up into the air. “Yes, Christiane. Please.”

Christiane kissed around Trellin’s mound, sliding a finger into Trellin’s opening. Inside, her body felt even more similar to a human woman’s. She found Trellin’s clit and teased it with her tongue. Christiane glanced upwards along Trellin’s body and surprised herself with the look; with her eyes closed, the smell and taste were very human but now, looking up, the great expanse of blue fur drove home the alienness of the woman she was making love to. Christiane closed her eyes again and pressed her mouth hard against Trellin’s vulva, enjoying the taste and smell of the Tindal’s sex.

Trellin’s moans were soft but insistent. Christiane wanted to hear the satisfying sound of a woman in need; she flicked her tongue over Trellin’s cunt and the Tindal moaned louder. Christiane tried not to smile too much as she kissed and loved Trellin. The Tindal’s orgasm came hard and fast, a shuddering of lovely limbs and the sound of a desperate voice. Christiane dragged it out as long as she could.

Trellin sat up and pulled Christiane’s face to her own, kissing and licking her juices off Christiane’s willing smile.

“Oh, Fah, you are great,” Trellin gasped. Trellin eased Christine down next to her, holding her close. “Thank you, Christiane. Thank you.”

Christiane hummed briefly, accepting the praise. She caressed the blue-furred fem gently as they held one another, then felt Trellin release her. “You have such a beautiful body,” Trellin said softly.

“Don’t lie to me, Trellin. Compared to everyone else on this vessel I’m the one who looks ancient.”

“No, you don’t understand us,” Trellin said, smiling down at her. “I like the way you look. Because we live so long our bodies are made to not change. Humans Terran bodies change with time. You wear your history on your outsides and that’s what’s so beautiful.” She kissed one of Christiane’s breasts softly. “You’re so beautiful. You look like you’ve had so much life.” Her mouth touched Christiane’s belly, then her mound.

Christiane parted her legs, taking Trellin’s words to heart, putting aside all the thinking she’d have to do much later. Right now Trellin’s mouth was sending waves of warmth through her belly and she heard moans before she realized they were her own. Trellin’s mouth was talented but she wanted more. “Your mitten, Trellin– can you?”

Trellin looked up, her face creased with thought. “I think so. Do you have anything slick?”

“Bag under the bed. Blue and white tube.”

Trellin found the container Christiane mentioned, squirting a small amount of the stuff onto her mitten. Christiane felt that mitten squirming against her opening, Trellin’s opposable thumb opening and pressing. Trellin’s mouth again found her mound and the twin sensations of Trellin’s warm mouth and her probing mitten made Christiane’s head swim. Again the alien sensation of Trellin’s mitten brought the strangeness of tonight to clarity in Christiane’s mind, a clarity was easily swept away by Trellin’s insistence. Christiane moaned loudly and pushed down, letting Trellin’s rolled mitten sink into her sex. That alone drove her over the brink; she couldn’t hold back the scream that tore itself out of her as she came. Her climax rolled on and on through her body for nearly half a minute before she could even begin to recover.

When she could look up, Trellin was lying next to her. The Tindal grinned and said, “You were amazing.”

“Me?” Christiane replied. “You were perfect!”

Trellin kissed Christiane warmly. “I’m glad to hear that,” she whispered.

The two women cuddled for a while. Christiane couldn’t help but smile as they lay together, but eventually Trellin roused herself and sat up. “I’m going to go back to my quarters, Christiane.”

“You sure?”

“The bed is too small,” Trellin. “And I’m still a little– I still want to keep us apart, not a couple. I just wanted to help you feel happy.”

Christiane reached up with one hand. Trellin took it. “You did that,” Christiane agreed.

“Then I’ve done what I wanted. I’ll do it again if you like.”

“I will like. Soon.”

Trellin nodded. “See you tomorrow. We’ll talk.”

“Yes.”

As the door closed behind Trellin, Christiane settled down onto the bed, letting out a deep sigh, letting go of tension she hadn’t been aware she’d been holding in. She rose from the bed and sat at her table, taking out her notebook again. She tried to get her thoughts in order. She looked down at what she had written and continued her earlier writing.

If pregnancy as we knew it fifty years ago was an imposition we could no longer tolerate, then death as we know it is also an imposition that Pendorians have decided they cannot tolerate either. But one of the purposes of contraception and abortion is to give women the same power and rights over their bodies that men have– the right to not have children. If that difference in power between men and women is addressed by reproductive technologies, what imbalance does immortality address to Pendorians? Maybe it’s that one imbalance that will always exist, no matter what: us versus the universe. Even granting immortality barely tips the scales, these people are so much a part of the physical world around them, just like us.

And Trellin– she told me that she adored my body because it changed with the passing years. There’s something infinitely sad about a people who never change. I feel a little like Wendy in the Land of the Lost Boys. Trellin is clearly grown up– but does she ever get past it? I suppose avoiding the midlife crisis is a plus. I wonder if aged maturity is all it’s cracked up to be.

Make a note: look up the oldest Pendorians. Not the tleel (check spelling) or centuries (same) but the children of those. The ones who grew up and are a hundred years old. What are they like? Do they have their own children? If I can find a few who are ninety years old who have children who are twenty– The lack of difference will be shocking.

She closed the notebook and put it away again. Exhaustion finally overtook her and she lay down again. She wondered if Trellin would be as lovely to her eyes, and if she would be as lovely to Trellins’s, in the morning.